The accuracy of eyewitness testimony: Research and implications

1. Introduction

Eye witness testimony is defined as any statements given by individuals who have observed an event that they perceived as potentially criminal (Loftus, 1975). It plays a crucial role within the legal system, as it can be used to convict or acquit an individual on trial. The accuracy of eyewitness testimony has been called into question in recent years, as research has shown that there are many factors which can affect an individual’s memory and recall of an event. This paper will discuss the role of eyewitness testimony in the legal system, the impact of research on this area, and factors which can influence the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.

2. The role of eyewitness testimony in the legal system

2.1. The impact of research on eyewitness testimony
Research into eyewitness testimony has shown that there are many factors which can affect an individual’s memory and recall of an event. This has led to a questioning of the accuracy of eyewitness testimony and its role within the legal system. One of the most famous cases which called the accuracy of eyewitness testimony into question is that of the Central Park Five (CP5). In this case, five African American and Hispanic teenage boys were wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park, New York City (Wright, 2009). The boys confessed to the crime after being interrogated for hours without a lawyer present. They later retracted their confessions, stating that they had been coerced by the police. Despite there being no physical evidence linking them to the crime, they were convicted based on their confessions and the eyewitness testimony of the victim (Wright, 2009). The CP5 case led to a re-examination of how police interrogation techniques can lead to false confessions, as well as how reliable eyewitness testimony really is.

2. 2. Factors influencing eyewitness testimony

There are many factors which can influence the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. These can be divided into three main categories: eyewitnes sidentification, memory, and recognition (Wells & Loftus, 2003).

2. 2.1. Eyewitness identification

Eyewitness identification is when an individual identifies someone who they saw commit a crime. There are many factors which can affect an individual’s ability to correctly identify someone from a lineup or photospread. One factor is anxiety; if an individual is feeling anxious or stressed, they may have difficulty remembering details or concentrating (Wells & Loftus, 2003). Another factor is stress; if an event is stressful or traumatic, it can lead to poorer recall as individuals may only remember certain details which stand out to them (Wells & Loftus, 2003). Another factor affecting identification is race; research has shown that people are more likely to incorrectly identify someone of a different race than their own (Wells & Loftus, 2003). This may be due to a number of factors, including stereotype threat or implicit bias. Stereotype threat occurs when individuals worry about confirming negative stereotypes about their social group (Steele & Aronson, 1995). For example, if an African American man is shown a lineup consisting mostly of white men, he may worry about confirming the stereotype that black men are more likely to commit crime. This may lead him to incorrectly identify someone in the lineup. Implicit bias is when individuals have unconscious biases towards certain groups or individuals (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). These biases can affect how individuals process and remember information. For example, if an individual has an implicit bias against black men, they may be more likely to remember a black man in a lineup as being the perpetrator of a crime, even if they are not sure.

2. 2.2. Memory

Memory is another factor which can affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Memory can be affected by a number of factors, including stress, anxiety, and alcohol or drug use (Wells & Loftus, 2003). Stress and anxiety can lead to poor recall as individuals may only remember certain details which stand out to them (Wells & Loftus, 2003). Alcohol and drug use can also affect memory, as they can impair an individual’s ability to concentrate or remember details (Wells & Loftus, 2003).

2. 2.3. Recognition

Recognition is when an individual identifies someone who they have seen before. Recognition can be affected by a number of factors, including the amount of time that has passed since the event occurred, the individual’s level of stress or anxiety at the time of the event, and whether or not the individual has seen the person before (Wells & Loftus, 2003). The amount of time that has passed since the event occurred can affect recognition as memories may fade over time (Wells & Loftus, 2003). The individual’s level of stress or anxiety at the time of the event can also affect recognition, as individuals under stress or anxiety may have difficulty concentrating or remembering details (Wells & Loftus, 2003). Finally, whether or not the individual has seen the person before can also affect recognition; if an individual has seen the person before, they may be more likely to correctly recognize them than if they have not seen the person before (Wells & Loftus, 2003).

2. 3. The accuracy of eyewitness testimony

The accuracy of eyewitness testimony is often called into question due to the many factors which can affect it. Research has shown that eyewitness testimony is often inaccurate; one study found that 41% of wrongful convictions in the United States were due to incorrect eyewitness testimony (Wells & Loftus, 2003). Another study found that 75% of participants in a lineup were incorrectly identified by at least one eyewitness (Steblay, Fulero, & Wells, 1999). These studies suggest that eyewitness testimony is often inaccurate and should not be relied on too heavily when making decisions in legal cases.

2. 4. The potential for bias in eyewitness testimony

As well as being inaccurate, eyewitness testimony also has the potential to be biased. One factor which can influence the accuracy of eyewitness testimony is race; research has shown that people are more likely to incorrectly identify someone of a different race than their own (Wells & Loftus, 2003). This may be due to a number of factors, including stereotype threat or implicit bias. Stereotype threat occurs when individuals worry about confirming negative stereotypes about their social group (Steele & Aronson, 1995). For example, if an African American man is shown a lineup consisting mostly of white men, he may worry about confirming the stereotype that black men are more likely to commit crime. This may lead him to incorrectly identify someone in the lineup. Implicit bias is when individuals have unconscious biases towards certain groups or individuals (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). These biases can affect how individuals process and remember information. For example, if an individual has an implicit bias against black men, they may be more likely to remember a black man in a lineup as being the perpetrator of a crime, even if they are not sure.

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, eyewitness testimony plays a crucial role within the legal system. However, research has shown that there are many factors which can affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. These include eyewitnes sidentification, memory, and recognition. Additionally, eyewitness testimony has the potential to be biased due to factors such as race or ethnicity. Therefore, it is important to take into account the many factors which can affect eyewitness testimony when making decisions in legal cases.

FAQ

Eye witness testimony is important in the legal system because it can provide first-hand accounts of what happened during a crime. This information can be used to help identify suspects, convict criminals, and exonerate innocent people.

Memory works by storing information in our brains so that we can recall it at a later time. Our memories can be influenced by different factors, such as emotions, stress, and fatigue.

The reliability of eye witness testimony depends on many factors, such as the clarity of the event, the distance from which the witness observed the event, and the amount of time that has passed since the event occurred.

Some of the main reasons why eyewitnesses may give inaccurate information include poor lighting conditions, being under stress or fear at the time of the event, having a limited view of what happened, or incorrectly remembering details due to memory biases.

Police officers or lawyers can reduce the impact of these biases when questioning witnesses by using techniques such as leading questions or suggestive questioning.

There are other methods that could be used to gather information about a crime besides eyewitness testimony, such as surveillance footage or DNA evidence.